PurposeAfter eight years of reforms, the French Red Cross (FRC) changed status from humanitarian association to nonprofit organization (NPO). This in-depth study of the organization’s recent past (2005-2013) aims to highlight several identity threats linked to the ongoing process of organizational rationalization and managerialization. The main contribution of this paper is based on the responses provided by this NPO to deal with it.Design/methodology/approachThis communication has been produced as part of a three-year research contract (2010-2013) for the FRC. A total of 39 semi-structured interviews conducted between February and June 2013, participatory observation and documentary study. Of the 39 interviews, 29 were usable, and these were analyzed using ALCESTE software. This software enabled the authors to quantify and extract the strongest signifying structures.FindingsThe “Red Cross” meta-identity has so far enabled FRC to change its identity, not without difficulty, but without major organizational crises. In this case, the results confirm the Ravasi at Schultz model (2006) by underlining the difficulty to create a “giving sense process.” At managerial level, the choice of “self-regulated” professionalization seems to have made the most impact in changing the members’ identity understanding. In response to the threat of the fragmentation of social links, the implementation of an important internal communication policy around the idea of a “community of actors” has not had the expected results.Research limitations/implicationsThis study is based on a unique case with unusual dimensions (18,025 employees and 56,136 volunteers).Practical implicationsThe example of the FRC is indicative of what happens in the nonprofit sector. The answers provided by this extraordinary association may inspire other organizations facing an identity crisis.Originality/valueThis paper reveals two major contributions. First, it validates the appropriateness of the Ravasi and Schultz model (2006) for the study of identity change in social enterprises. Second, it assists managers through its analysis of the appropriateness of procedures and tools used to support identity change. From an international perspective, this paper also contributes by describing the evolution of NPOs in the French context.
Society and Business Review – Emerald Publishing
Published: Feb 11, 2019
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